Getting a job

How to Research a Career

The word is out: the economy has recovered – but what does that mean for students graduating soon?  I think we all know it means things are better, but still shaky, and students need to proceed with caution and with as much information about their career choice as possible. But how do you research a career? How do you know the career you want to pursue is a realistic option?  Here are a few basics to help you get started.

Talk to a Counselor
If you aren’t sure of what you want to do, or aren’t sure of what your strongest skills and interests are, the first standard step is to talk with a career center counselor at your school. Of course, the earlier you do this the better off you will be, because you can then chart your academic pathway according to a career choice. The counselor may suggest you take a self-assessment test. The Strong Interest Inventory, Myers/Briggs, Strengths Finder, and Dependable Strengths are a few of the major tests. You can find information about all of these tests on the web. A counselor should be able to help you brainstorm career ideas, and provide you with general information on what is required to enter a particular field and the employment projections.

Do Your Own Searching
The Occupational Outlook Handbook ( provides detailed information on careers. You can search by median pay, education level, training offered (including internships), projected number of new jobs, and growth rate. They offer a great section called “See how to become one” so you know what the steps are you need to take to reach your goal. It includes not only the education and training needed, but the important professional and personal qualities for the type of work, details on the work environment, and what the occupation actually does on a day-to-day basis. The site lists similar occupations to help you zero in on the best fit for you and contacts for more information. If you look under the “Subjects” tab you’ll find the tab for pay and benefits. I strongly suggest you spend some time there. A similar online aid for career research is O*Net Online:

Check the Pay
Both of these sites will give you a solid starting point for finding a direction to explore further. If you look at these sites be sure to look carefully and closely at the wage sections, and keep in mind the salaries given are a median. Unless you have the professional experience that makes you exceptionally well qualified for at least the median range, you will have to work your way up from entry level to a higher level of compensation.

Compensation structure is important; take the time to do the math in a serious way; does the potential income cover student loans, retirement planning, buying a home, etc. You may discover that your dream career isn’t financially practical. If that’s the case, find a career that uses your strengths in other ways, and do your dream career on the side or as a volunteer.

Get Some Experience
Speaking of volunteering, it’s a tried and true way to learn about an occupation, and as you know, the same is true of an internship. Internships are the new gateway to employment and are increasingly being used as a recruitment tool and testing ground for potential employees. However, please remember it’s a two-way street. An internship is your chance to test the waters with a career choice and see if it is what you really want to do after you graduate. As for volunteering, while you don’t earn academic credit for it, it still provides you with a valuable learning experience. Volunteers and interns can have an insider’s view to the types of clients someone in the field interacts with, what the primary tasks and responsibilities are in real world terms, how challenges are met, the typical values of people working in the field, and you should get a pretty good idea of what your satisfaction level would be working in the field.

Ask Some Questions
Informational interviews can be a great way to find out more about a career, but there are a lot of variables that go into them. In a good one you will be given some candid advice, and the questions you ask can help to ensure this, so do your homework and ask strong opened ended questions. Some examples are: what are the most common entry level jobs in the field, what are recent developments in the filed in terms of both opportunities and threat, how do people advance in the field, what are the key skills required for success, what types of problems do you deal with in your job, and what types of decisions do you make. Your professors are a good resource for people to talk to in the professional world. They typically know and network with professional people working in the academic field they teach.

If all you find out from an internship, volunteer work, or an informational interview is that the work is not for you, that is still highly valuable information. Weeding out is a part of the process too, and it’s better to find it out while you are still in school rather than after you have started a job and then find out the hard way it’s not right for you. It’s not only finding a job that takes concentrated effort; making a good career choice takes thought, research, and some leg work.

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Julie Miller

Julie Miller, M. Ed., is the Internship Program Manager for Interdisciplinary Arts & Science at the University of Washington Tacoma. She also teaches career development at UW Tacoma, and is a Dependable Strengths local instructor. Prior to working in higher education, she was the Director of Volunteers and Interns for a non-profit organization.